Structural Violence Close to Home: Homelessness in London, Ontario

 Tents on snowy street

Zeinab Zammar
Master in Applied Health Sciences, Faculty of Health Sciences 

Homelessness continues to be a predominant issue in London, Ontario. I have lived in London for over 10 years, and throughout my time here, especially from adolescence to young adulthood, I have witnessed an increasing number of individuals experiencing homelessness. I have seen people asking for help in front of malls, department stores, and intersections. I remember walking through a park and noticing a metal divider on a bench; my first thought was “this was an armrest or a place to put your lunch,” but the reality behind this design feature was much more unpleasant. After a quick search, I learned that these dividers were to prevent individuals from sleeping on the benches. This was a form of anti-homeless architectural design, also referred to as hostile architecture (Geraghty, 2022). This demeaning strategy to prevent people from sleeping in public places perpetuates hardships that those experiencing homelessness are disproportionately burdened with.

Unfortunately, homeless individuals experience many stereotypes (on top of microaggressions, macroaggressions, and discrimination). Some stereotypes I have witnessed include that homeless people are lazy, intellectually inferior, drug addicts, and dangerous. Also, there is the common assumption that individuals experiencing homelessness have mental health issues, choose to live on the streets, and choose to be unemployed. Many of these assumptions could not be further from the truth. There are many factors and circumstances that can lead someone to experience homelessness. For example, economic and social issues underlie London’s uneven distribution of wealth and well-being. Economic factors influence an individual’s financial situation, and factors such as income, education, wages, cost of housing and rent, and a lack of housing, employment, and opportunities have contributed to homelessness.

Forchuk et al. (2022) conducted a focused ethnographic study involving families experiencing homelessness in London and concluded that lack of social support, low income, inadequate budgeting, unemployment, and lack of awareness of the rental system contributed to their circumstances. Disparate access to educational opportunities and resources often limit an individual’s growth and can result in homelessness. An individual’s race, gender, and ethnicity can intersect with homelessness, further increasing the likelihood of them not receiving needed support and placing them at a greater disadvantage (Arauco et al., 2014).

One participant in Forchuk et al. (2022) mentioned that their landlord did not want to rent to people of colour and that they sometimes uttered racial slurs at their family. Such barriers make the housing search even more difficult. If an individual finds a place to stay, it can feel hostile and challenging, especially when trying to raise a family. Intersecting aspects of identity, including socioeconomic status, race, ability, and many other factors can place individuals at a higher risk of experiencing homelessness. This is linked to the concept of structural violence which refers to social structures, such as economic and political structures, that prevent individuals from reaching their full potential (Galtung, 1969, as cited in Farmer et al., 2006). Violence in this case is defined as “avoidable impairment of fundamental human needs” (Galtung, 1993, as cited in Farmer et al., 2006). To further elaborate, structural violence could be understood as a contributor to this health problem because economic factors continue to place vulnerable individuals at a disadvantage. Income is a significant determinant of health, and people experiencing homelessness are predisposed to numerous health complications and diseases (Fazel et al., 2014).

London is one of the fastest-growing cities in Canada, and there has been so much economic growth (Butler, 2022b; De Bono, 2022). Yet, the government cannot provide aid to numerous individuals experiencing poverty (Butler, 2022a). Various systemic issues are to blame for this, which are beyond the scope of this blog post. With inflation and the fact that Canada is likely heading into a recession this coming year, many people who can barely make ends meet may be at risk of experiencing homelessness (Falvo, 2021). To create sustainable plans, policymakers and community leaders must make an effort to understand the underlying problems and multiple components of homelessness, such as economic factors. The concept of structural violence addressed in this paper could be important in addressing this health issue.

Despite the problems, it is important to acknowledge various efforts toward positive change. The City of London has been working towards developing a sustainable housing system to address short-term and long-term challenges regarding homelessness. The city is also committed to addressing diverse groups’ needs to ensure complex needs are recognized and addressed inclusively (City of London, 2019). Some solutions proposed by Forchuk et al. (2022) include certification and training for renters on finances, affordable and safe housing, resources for transitioning from social assistance to employment, and connecting individuals to supportive services. These certainly sound better than the bench ‘solution’ previously mentioned. The London InterCommunity Health Centre also provides various programs and support for individuals experiencing homelessness and poverty such as housing referrals.

Housing is a critical component of health. As a fundamental human right, public policymakers need to act to address this issue. If you live in a home with food on your table, it’s easy to think you could never experience homelessness. This thought probably never comes to your mind. However, we need to recognize that it can happen to anyone, and it can take a major change in your life to put you in that vulnerable position. We need to stop making dangerous generalizations about individuals experiencing homelessness and be more empathetic and acknowledge that their positions are more complicated than we may think. Housing stability will lead to greater health and enhanced quality of life for all, resulting in a stronger community.


Arauco, V. P., Gazdar, H., Hevia-Pacheco, P., Kabeer, N., Lenhardt, A., Masood, S. Q., ... & Mariotti, C. (2014). Strengthening social justice to address intersecting inequalities post-2015. London, Overseas Development Institute. www. odi. org/sites/odi. org. uk/files/odi-assets/publications-opinion-files/9213. pdf.

Butler, C. (2022a, July 29). London Homeless Coalition breaks its tradition of secrecy over homeless deaths. CBC News. Retrieved from

Butler, C. (2022b, February 9). New Census data suggests London is Ontario's fastest growing city, 4th fastest in Canada. CBC News. Retrieved from,migration%20and%20intra%2Dprovincial%20migration.

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Fazel, S., Geddes, J. R., & Kushel, M. (2014). The health of homeless people in high-income countries: descriptive epidemiology, health consequences, and clinical and policy recommendations. The Lancet, 384(9953), 1529-1540.

Forchuk, C., Russell, G., Richardson, J., Perreault, C., Hassan, H., Lucyk, B., & Gyamfi, S. (2022). Family matters in Canada: Understanding and addressing family homelessness in Ontario. BMC Public Health, 22(1).

Geraghty, L. (2022, September 17). 5 ways anti-homeless architecture is used to exclude people from public spaces. The Big Issue. Retrieved from

Newcombe, D. (2019, September 27). Progress report: More work needed to get London's homeless off the streets. London. Retrieved from